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The International Centre of Microbial Resources (CIRM), yeast collection in Grignon. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe

Genetic and biological resources

Plant resources

Built up for scientific research purposes dedicated to enhancing plants or plant biology, these genetic resources bear witness to the history of agriculture and INRA’s longstanding research tradition. As such, they are of inestimable value. The Institute is committed to making a large part of its genetic resources accessible to the world of both research and agriculture.

By Communications Department, translated by Inge Laino
Updated on 06/07/2018
Published on 06/13/2013

INRA has teamed up with other French research institutions (Cirad and IRD) and higher agricultural education establishments to build the Plant Pillar of the RARe infrastructure.

A resource for knowledge, innovation and national heritage

INRA’s research programmes, aimed at enhancing crop plants and analysing genes and their functions, have always required that a wide variety of plant species be collected, characterised and conserved. The collections that the Institute has accumulated are available to many research partners, both public and private. They are a unique resource for the most popular plant varieties used in agriculture today. Genetic resources offer scientists a valuable tool to rise to the challenges of agriculture, food and the environment.

In its role as a public research institution, INRA is committed to preserving and managing biological diversity. Where agricultural and ornamental plants are concerned, genetic diversity has been shaped by nature, but also by man, through centuries of farming and the domestication of natural species. As such, the Institute’s collections are of value both in agricultural and historical terms. Most often, they are entrusted to the care of national networks that bring together public institutions and a wide range of private partners and associations. To the best of its abilty, INRA shares its genetic resources with all potential users, giving priority to research, training and development.

Resources that best represent the biodiversity of living species

For plants that have not been domesticated by man, the genetic resources are naturally-occurring populations and their related species, sometimes hailing from different parts of the world.

For plants domesticated by humans, genetic resources include: populations from different countries, old and modern varieties, the results of cross-breeding or work carried out in laboratories (natural or artificial mutants, sterile male lines, etc.), but also wild species from which they derive and their relatives. The collections available at INRA include a wide range of wild or related species, making them some of the biggest repositories in Europe and the world.

A collection is considered representative if it covers the entire range of diversity of a species with no duplicates. Indeed, samples collected from different sources can turn out to be identical, which is why it is important to document and characterise collections. This provides a basis upon which a core collection can be built, made up of a small number of samples that are unique and representative of the entire range of diversity of a plant. This implies thorough investigation of the nature of diversity to be preserved, which may depend on how the species will be put to use at a later date, or if it is intended for new uses: diversity of genes and their functions, diversity of individual specimens, or the heritage or cultural value of certain varieties.

Online access to genetic resources of cultivated plants from French research bodies and educational establishments

INRA has made history by developing an online information system for genetic plant resources that consolidates data on the genetic resources stored in its Biological Resources Centres (BRCs): where they are stored, passport data, plant characteristics, etc.

The Institute currently nourishes the portal by granting single access to all collections of genetic resources for research and education in France related to cultivated plants (Florilège portal).

Information-sharing and the law

The Convention on Biological Diversity (recognising the sovereignty of states over their genetic resources, ratified in 1993) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for food and agriculture (FAO, applying to major plant crops, ratified in 2005) provide the legal framework that governs how countries share their genetic resources. When it comes to plant genetic resources, compliance with TIRPAA is consistent with the Nagoya protocol implemented worldwide.

France has chosen to regulate access to its genetic resources. Conditions for diffusion and related legislation are currently under review by the ministries in charge of the environment, research and agriculture.

Cereals, sunflower, rapeseed, vegetables, vines, citrus, fruit trees, rose, potato, fodder, lawns, “model” plants, etc.
217 826 seed or plant samples and 22 million DNA fragments stored and readily available.

Plant genetic resources: 15 Biological Resource Centres. © INRA, INRA, Véronique Gavalda
Plant genetic resources: 15 Biological Resource Centres © INRA, INRA, Véronique Gavalda

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Plant Biology and Breeding
Associated Centre(s):

Biological resources for tropical plants

Cirad, INRA and IRD are committed to maintaining BRCs for tropical plant species, both in France and overseas. Together, they are taking steps to secure collections, maintain quality, and develop management tools for BRCs. They have also launched a joint website that lists what resources are available.

This initiative was taken with partners from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean Sea: BRC Vatel in Reunion (vanilla, tropical garlic varieties, underutilized vegetables), BRC Caféiers in Reunion & Montpellier (coffee), BRC Tropicales in Montpellier (rice), perennial plant collections in Guiana (cacao, coffee, rubber) and BRC Plantes tropicales in Guadeloupe and Martinique (pineapple, banana, sugar cane, yam, mango).

Scientific contact: Claudie Pavis
Unit: Tropical agrosystems, INRA French West Indies and Guiana Research Centre
Division: Environment and Agronomy